Monday, May 9, 2011

O Pen discussion: 3 poems from April 2011 issue of Poetry


"The things we love tell us who we are". Thomas Aquinas.
Why do we "love" certain poems? Arts? Music? Expectations often color our appreciation. The challenge of poetry is perhaps to look at the conversation we hold with a poem that helps us understand not just the poem, but who we are.
The April issue investigates poetry's audience.

Poetry Magazine kindly sent us 6 copies of the April issue which addresses the question of audience. What kind of public is addressed? What kind of reader?
Someone who is looking for a narrative which tells a lesson?

On the website, the idea of sharing an anecdote like the story overhead at the Drycleaners in the Dave Smith poem, wouldn't happen in light conversation at say, a superbowl party.
We noted the way the narrator shifted his opinion away from one of irritation (finding the story the woman telling in front of him, a nuisance, making him wait his turn to pick up his drycleaning, "her Creole story drones on"). The poem made us think about stories -- how we tell them, and how we are affected by them.

The word "maybe" separates the repetition of the word "wrong" associated with the man she never married, and the word, "good". "Bad" is not him, but the tire he won't fix. We are reminded not to be the people who cough in comment.
How a woman picks up unclaimed drycleaning, and we have a vision of the man to whom it belongs and are offered an image of redemption. The metaphor of perfectly starched cloth, wash/of memorable words is not trite, -- nor the play of the ending "that leave you standing".

Roddy Lumsden's "Yeast" is a sonic delight*, where the play on "yeast" with variations of the letters increases the pleasure. Whether or not one follows the "story" of microbes,the diction and density knead the reader. It is with relief one reads the last line, "in the throne of his slumber, a mercy seat". Archaic sounds like "juddering" and "gurns" are at odds with modern colloquialisms and invented words like proto-raunch. Each word is in fact it's own universe.

Discussion included what words we can't say... what words conjure up... which images delighted us, or made us queasy.

Lumsden's poem 1979 was another brilliant, but quite different poem.
Set in couplets, the narrative unfolds the tale of an illicit meeting at a hotel --
"smithing in"; twitchy as flea-drummed squirrels...
surprising description, from his shoes (little boats you wouldn't put to sea in)
to wine, "not yet considered bodily fluid" set a tone that is both humorous, yet, captures the dread, which seals the poem as last word. Images such as "dusk's ask" -- that "what's next" and the mystery of a witching hour) and the song of the pipes (doubly compared, "as a face pressed/ to glass as a basketball with a mouth and teeth")enhance the jumpy nervousness of an affair. He slips in statements, about scandal, about how the mind works, without obtrusive preachiness. "You will have heard that the mind works much/ as an oval of soap turned between two hands."

The syntax of the closing couplet, by placing "our shadows' footsteps clatter" AFTER "beneath our own" , the emphasis on the end stop, "own" allows rich associations.
Possession, owning up to our own actions, shadows, fears, dread.

from the poetry website, April issue, discussion guide:
*At the opposite end of the spectrum, we might locate poems like Roddy Lumsden’s “Yeast,” which bubbles with sonic rather than narrative energy, and eschews the grand social dynamics that interest Williams, Wright, and others. Physically small, the sonnet describes the adventures of a miniscule fungus, which “squirms,” “gurns,” and is “born again.” The word “yeast” itself recurs in various iterations, appearing in a scramble of letters at the end of each line: “yes at,” “as yet,” “not easy.” In subject and style, this poem might seem to cater to a specifically poetry-reading audience: it neither concerns itself with “public” events nor hews to conventions recognizable from fiction.

Where would you place the rest of the poems in this issue? Does the notion of a small public trouble you, or do you feel, to quote W.S. Di Piero’s poem in this issue, that sometimes, “not being heard”—or being heard by just a few—“is the whole point of it”?"

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